Parents Support New York City’s Initiative To Provide Birth Control To High School Students

Last year, New York City started a pilot program to provide free birth control — including emergency contraception, commonly known as Plan B — in 13 of its public schools in an effort to combat the city’s high rates of teen pregnancy. Health officials announced yesterday that the program has “encountered little resistance from parents” since it begun in 2011.

The Department of Education sent notices to parents to allow them to opt their children out of the pilot program, but officials reported that hardly any parents chose to do so:

Only 1 percent to 2 percent of parents returned a form to opt out of the program. The form allowed them to select any or all of four types of reproductive services that they did not want their child to receive, including emergency contraception, birth control pills, pregnancy testing or condoms. […]

New York is among 21 states and the District of Columbia that allow all minors access to contraceptive services, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group in Washington that supports abortion rights. But because of a court decision in the early 1990s, some form of parental notification and the right to opt out is required at school.

The year-old CATCH program, which stands for Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare, is an expansion of an existing program run by privately-operated health centers in schools around the city. Although the private program has been operating in New York City schools for the past several years, only about a quarter of the city’s high school students are currently able to access contraceptive services through those health centers. The newer, city-run program intends to extend services to an additional 5 percent of students. The schools in the pilot program were chosen because health officials identified their student bodies at a greater risk for unintended pregnancy, partly because they lack sufficient health services to educate students about birth control.

A health department spokesperson pointed out that since over 7,000 New York City students become pregnant before the age of 17, city officials are “committed to trying new approaches, like this pilot program in place since January 2011, to improve a situation that can have lifelong consequences.” New York City enacted a comprehensive sexuality education policy last year that requires public schools to include accurate information about physiology, conception, and birth control methods in their health class curricula. Free condoms are already available at high schools across the city.

New York City’s education department is modeling a way forward for schools in the rest of the state, which a recent report exposed as having “shocking gaps” in their sex ed programs in the absence of state-wide requirements for comprehensive sexuality courses.